Shortly after cop Carl Mørck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) of Department Q, a bureau which looks at long-unsolved cases, refuses to consider looking at a twenty-year-old double murder, the father of the victims commits suicide. With partner Assad (Fares Fares) and new secretary Rose (Johanne Louise Schmidt), Mørck starts picking at the supposedly solved case. He suspects a decades-old coverup of crimes connected with an exclusive private school will unravel if he can locate Kimmie (Danica Curcic), a pupil who has been missing – living on the streets – ever since the murders. Involved in some way are her former classmates – privileged tycoon Ditlev Pram (Pilou Absaek) and his dangerous best friend Ulrik Dybbøl (David Dencik).
Danish author Jussi Adler-Olsen has written a series of novels about the cops of Department Q – this is based on the second (published in the UK as Disgrace and the US as The Absent One) and reunites director Mikkel Nørgaard and stars Kaas and Fares from the successful Kvinden I Buret (Keeper of Lost Causes/Mercy). In the earlier film, traumatised Mørck and his immigrant partner Assad – scorned as ‘The Drunk and the Arab’ by colleagues – made a success of their first case and Mørck began to redeem himself … which means that we have to assume some setbacks between films to get him into the proper edgy, obsessive, despised mode required for a rule-breaking rogue cop hero and a fresh shock – the suicide of a man who he refuses to help – to set him onto a new mystery and reboot his self-destructive, results-at-any-cost streak. It’s a different type of story from the first (which involved a stalker/captor and a long-imperilled victim) but again the crux is a woman who has been missing for years – with an added social angle as the case brings Department Q up against alumni of a prestigious school who are in a position to exert behind-the-scenes influence to shut down the investigation and crazed enough (they’re the sort who import endangered animals so they can hunt them) to brutalise and kill anyone who gets in their way.
Again, there’s a split between the cops going over old files and tracking down witnesses – including a patsy who served a suspiciously light jail term for rape/murder and came out of prison surprisingly well-set-up – to piece together what really happened and the struggles of the woman at the centre of the puzzle. The strongest fresh element here is the complicated character of Kimmie – Danica Curcic in the present day and Sarah-Sofie Boussnina in the flashbacks – who is surviving on the streets of the city and still evading her old classmates, with occasional spurts of Lisbeth Salander-style resourcefulness. Not an innocent, Kimmie has exiled herself from privilege as much from guilt as fear, and the flashbacks nicely complicate the melodramatic situation by exploring how complicit the heroine was in the misdeeds of the villains and how warped they all were even before they started crossing the line (Department Q turn up records of a string of crimes committed on Sundays – the only free day upper-class schoolkids get).
It’s not exactly a mystery, though the details of what happened and who did what terrible thing to whom take a while to put together. Focus is more on the way Morck and Kimmie both struggle against the entrenched power of sleekly psychopathic ‘sexy tycoon’ Pram – Pilou Asbaek as a grown-up, Marco Ilsø in flashbacks – and his all-the-way-crazy Count Zaroff wannabe castle-owning sidekick Dybbøl – David Dencik and Philip Stilling. It’s hardly news that rich people are evil (the flashbacks have a slight Riot Club flavour), but the theme is played out here with barbed, contemporary angles – when they personally step in to beat people up, the crimes are ascribed to ‘immigrants’, and it’s shown that their psychopathy and inherited status has enabled them to profit from the economic crises that have beggared everyone else. Even the fact that the heroine is homeless underlines the class issues raised by the case – the point is that the sadistic Pram and the maniacal Dybbøl aren’t even unrepresentative of the ultra-rich. It has that Danish noir grit – luxury homes and filthy squats look equally uncomfortable, and the bursts of violence are all messy, squalid and shocking.